LINCOLN, Neb. — The NCAA has been randomly testing athletes at its championship events and football bowl games for performance enhancing and recreational drugs since 1986. In 2014, the penalty for testing positive at either of those events for a recreational drug such as marijuana was reduced from a suspension of one year to six months.
Now NCAA chief medical officer Dr. Brian Hainline wants to end NCAA testing for recreational drugs.
Hainline said the NCAA should focus on catching cheaters who gain a competitive advantage by using performance-enhancing drugs — year-round testing is still in place with a one-year suspension the punishment for a positive test — and leave it mostly to the schools to deal with athletes who are caught using rec drugs.
Hainline discussed the issue in an interview with The Associated Press.
AP: Why was the NCAA penalty for recreational drug use cut from a suspension of one year to six months?
Hainline: Our competitive safeguards committee said we should decrease the ban because (athletes) really aren't doing it because of cheating. Maybe we look at recreational drugs differently, that we don't test for them at championships anymore but that we look at recreational drugs as an issue that really is a social issue, moral issue, health issue. It's not a cheating issue.
AP: What would the NCAA do with regard to rec drugs if it doesn't test athletes?
Hainline: The best place to work with that is on each individual campus. So what I have pledged is that we would give the member institutions the tools and the best practices to work with recreational drug use. That does include testing, so for example, if I'm at Campus A and I think there is a tremendous marijuana abuse problem, you can actually test for marijuana. But then when you come up with a positive, it's not kicking the person off the sport for a year; it's addressing the core issue like why are you using marijuana and is there a therapy and intervention we can make? Testing can be part of it, but it's not the national office coming in and being the moral police on campus. It's us giving the member institutions tools for working with opiate and alcohol use at the campus.
AP: When do you think the NCAA would stop testing for rec drugs at championship events?
Hainline: I'm not a legislative person, but I think we're on the timeline for that happening probably in a year. There was a thought it might happen sooner, but I think the membership is asking me to get them better infrastructure so they can take this on at the campus level.
AP: Do you think schools would stop doing their own testing?
Hainline: What I wouldn't want to see happen ... is that we say, 'OK, we're no longer testing for pot' and then others say, 'OK, we're not, either.' That's not the right answer. The answer is we're not going to do it at championships because we don't think that's an effective strategy and doesn't make sense. We still want there to be a policy at the campus level that addresses this more holistically.
AP: Of the 146 football players tested at bowl games last year, 21 turned up positive for pot. Did that surprise you?
Hainline: Let's put it this way: It's astonishing to me, and I think there's a communication breakdown about how pot is being tested. Either (players) don't know it, or more likely it's like two weeks before the bowl game and they're not really thinking about it and they're at the usual kind of parties they're at and people are passing around a joint and they take a hit.
AP: So 14 percent of the players testing positive for pot seems like a lot to you?
Hainline: It seems high. I also know the inside of that because part of that — and I can't say any more than this — but one entire team, virtually the entire team tested positive out of everyone that was tested. That was a team that wasn't expecting to be tested ... It's a telling story in and of itself, and again, it's a telling story about where we are with marijuana in this country, which I think we are still coming to terms with.
NCAA drug testing: http://www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety/policy/drug-testing